Like a good comic book villain, the staple comic book game has returned with Warner Bros. Games newest game based upon the Dark Knight; Batman: Arkham Origins.
The game comes just two years after the critically acclaimed Arkham City and focuses on Batman’s rise to fame in a Gotham unwilling to fight against those who break the law.
However, while it does share the name of the other popular Batman game is it a step forward or a Ubisoftesc installment/sequel.
Let’s start off with the good. Spoilers ahead BTW.
One thing that made the Arkham games different was the involvement of comic and TV writer Paul Dini. Dini made his name by working on the 90s Batman Animated TV series however; when it can to writing a video game his approach didn’t hit the mark all the time.
Whether it was his idea or the developers to make Joker be the main focus of the series it doesn’t really matter, what does is the fact that the ending of Arkham City was hindered by the final plot twists and 180 leading Batman back to the Joker.
While Joker might be the most well known enemy of Caped Crusader, he’s over used in the way of movies and video games.
So when I saw that the main focus of Origins would lean more towards the Black Mask character, I was excited.
The new game developers Warner Bros Montreal looked for a different writer and only had to travel across Montreal to find Corey May who wrote the scripts for the Assassins Creed franchise and his work is felt early.
The characterizations are much stronger this time with each character seemingly having more depth and interesting things to do.
Also the setting of Gotham at Christmas times was different for the series, if not a little too Shane Black-like in practice.
Coming with the newer setting and writer also comes new voice actors.
While the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker respectively were cool to hear during the first two games the shoes are filled quite well by Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker.
Baker of course had one heck of a year as he ended up voicing not only Joker but Joel from Last of Us and Booker in Bioshock Infinite. There are a few voices returning for this game as Tara Strong returns to Harley Quinn and Robert Costanzo returns to voice everyone’s favourite pessimist cop, Harvey Bullock.
However, that’s not to say that the script is perfect. In fact much like the other games, the plot seems to move back to the tried and true Joker card as well as teasing story elements that can be seen through due to the fact that this is a prequel.
But I’ll get more into that later.
WB Montreal was able to build on the work already done by Rocksteady Studios and add a number of things to their work.
The inclusion of the shock gloves already introduced in their reworking of Arkham City for the Wii U added a bit more depth and allowed for the player to lean on the gadget if the situation got a bit to hairy.
Additionally the groups of enemies that Bats had to fight are much larger than before. There’s little more fun that jumping into a group of enemies and using your gadgets/combos, pantsing each and every goon.
One interesting thing that WB Montreal added were several murder cases that Batman can solve. The player ends up scanning and reconstructing the crime scene to find clues that’ll lead him to the criminals.While these aren’t that deep, they’re more interesting than what was done in the Arkham games in the past.
Origins also takes the time to add a number of staples of the DC character library and add depth to the Arkham universe as a whole.
Most of these characters end up having their own boss fights, which are unique from one another. While some of them, mostly the Deathstroke fight, are controller breakingly frustrating they make the game more interesting in the long run.
Couple that with some cool Battlefield inspire multiplayer and the game is a pretty round package.
Despite all of this, there are some things that hinder the game from reaching the greatness of Arkham City.
While the game advertised a plot revolving around Black Mask, the story turns into an origin of the relationship between Batman and Joker.
Part of the way through the game we see that Black Mask really isn’t the one in charge, but that the new Clown Prince of Crime, Joker, is the one who hired the assassins and planed the whole mess.
This twist really stuck out to me as I was hoping for they’re to be something different.
However, while there are a number of elements that are redone from other stories and games, Origins manages to do something different with Joker…it humanizes him in a way that only Alan Moore had done before.
Shortly after the plot twist is revealed Joker is brought into Blackgate where he meet’s his doctor Harley Quinzel (later Harley Quinn).
Through a few cut scenes and game play elements we get a better idea as to who this guy really is, without ever hearing his real name.
While the idea of Batman completing Joker was brought up in The Dark Knight film, it really wasn’t explored that well. Origins allows us to get a bit closer to the character and almost feel for him due to his seeming loneliness.
However, much like the other Arkham games the ending is underwhelming and seemed to fall kind of flat in the final hours. Especially when you realize that Joker isn’t even the final boss battle, Bane is.
While the idea of fighting this version of Bane is interesting, the way that you fight him is ultimately not as deep as the developers were trying to make it look.
The plot’s shortcomings aren’t the only thing that’s brought over from the last game, so to is the fighting engine.
While fighting enemies does allow a great deal of leeway to let you experiment, the large number of goons make it difficult to start a combo as you’ll start working in one direction only to be popped in the back of the head in another.
Adding to the confusing is the addition of several new enemy types. The addition of Venom soldiers, armed Venom Soldiers and Kung Fu goons bring the enemy types up to around 10. Needless to say, juggling these types is difficult and can cause frustration in some gamers.
Lastly, and this is one I haven’t heard too much about, the game has several technical issues that makes the game difficult to play. My personal favourite was the when the game lagged so much that it made traveling across the city unbearable. Here’s a video example I captured.
Thankfully these issues don’t happen all the time, but similar instances happened three times during my original play through.
Despite these issues there’s a fun game to be had. While some of these issues such as plot and glitches can be either ignored or fixed later by a patch, the game still has enough Batman goodness for people to take notice.
The seventh generation of game consoles has gave us some amazing Batman games, something that hadn’t really been done before (cause let’s face it, most Batman games sucked).
To say that this is the weakest of all the Arhkam games is to say that it’s the third best Batman game ever made or that it’s the weakest in a trilogy of the best Comic Book Video Game franchise this generation has seen.
Let’s not let a bit of lag stop us from talking like Christian Bale.
Batman Arhkam Origins is available for PS3 (which I played on), XBox 360, Wii U and PCs.